Saracens v Munster: How the sides compare

Darren Sweetnam during Munster Rugby Squad Training at the University of Limerick in Limerick. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

SARACENS

Team News

Milestones and long-awaited comebacks feature aplenty in the Saracens team picked by Mark McCall, who makes 10 changes from the side which lost at Bristol Bears last week.

Second row George Kruis is set to make his 50th European appearance while scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth will feature in his 100th Champions Cup game if he is deployed off the bench.

Captain Brad Barritt has recovered from an ankle injury and is named at inside centre while Wales star Liam Williams goes onto the Saracens wing and Ben Spencer and Owen Farrell are restored as the half-backs. Another significant return sees loosehead prop Mako Vunipola make his first club appearance since January.

He returns to boost an all-Test Saracens front five while his brother Billy will bid to leave his controversial social media statements and the official warning that followed from his employers when he starts at No. 8.

Lineout Prowess

Peter O’Mahony believes the Saracens lineout is one of the best Munster will face. The stats suggest as much with England and Lions hooker Jamie George’s tournament-leading 94 per cent accuracy with 80 of his 85 throws finding their target, usually one of fellow Test stars George Kruis and Maro Itoje.

O’Mahony played and trained with all three on the 2017 Lions tour and the Munster captain said, “To be fair to George Kruis, he did an incredible amount of lineout work and video.

You see that with them and with England as well, their ball-winning percentages would be very high.

"Saracens and England are two of the few teams left that really score maul tries, which is getting more and more difficult to do. That’s standing to them. So between them all, they’re certainly a complete lineout team.”

MUNSTER

Team News

Johann van Graan makes 12 changes to the side that won at Benetton last weekend but was unable to reintroduce in-form wing Keith Earls.

Earls, who scored both Munster’s tries in the quarter-final victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield on March 30, failed to come through the week’s training having withdrawn from the team that played Cardiff Blues a fortnight ago due to a stiff thigh muscle.

Darren Sweetnam, the wing who replaced Earls at the last minute in the opening pool fixture at Exeter last October, is one of the three players to have retained his place from the trip to Treviso.

Full-back Mike Haley, who missed the quarter-final due to sickness (when he was replaced an hour before kick-off by Sweetnam) and openside flanker Jack O’Donoghue also keep their places. O’Donoghue joins a back row also featuring captain Peter O’Mahony, who makes his 50th Champions Cup appearance.

The Red Brick Wall

Saracens’ hooker Jamie George was asked by an Irish journalist this week whether the presence of a couple of dogs on the Munster training field last Monday was an indication the province was trying to emulate his club’s famous “Wolfpack” defensive template.

George replied:

Well they’ve got the best defence in Europe so I don’t think they’re too worried about copying our template

Munster, guided by defence coach JP Ferreira, conceded the fewest number of tries (9) and points (72) in the pool stages and only leaked a single score to Edinburgh in the quarter-final at Murrayfield.

They lead the competition for both tackle success (89%) and turnovers (56) while lock Tadhg Beirne has a tournament-leading individual tally of 14.

Yet in Saracens that defence faces its biggest challenge, the English club ahead of their European rivals in the competition with the most tries (30) and points (241).

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